All art is conceptual.

Okay … there’s a fine line on occasion …

As a thought experiment, let’s posit … purely for the sake of an argument, with no need for said argument to have any basis in reality … that Van Gogh’s Sunflowers was not an act of intentionally attempting to capture the experience in order to subsequently communicate it to another, or others, but simply the act of a mentally disturbed individual compelled to act after spending too long in the sun, having drunk to much absinthe.

Is it still Art?

Are the random daubings of a chimpanzee Art?

In the case of the mentally disturbed Van Gogh in the thought experiment, I would say not — there is no intentionality in the act … no concept.

In the case of the chimpanzee, I would say there were … just not on the part of the chimpanzee itself but rather on the part of the real, human, artist who conceived of the process and end result before providing the chimpanzee with paint and canvas — there was an intentionality … there was a concept.

What you are doing here is saying … and to be fair, you do say this yourself, right at the start … “I don’t like this kind of art.”

But therein lies the problem … personal taste is personal taste and no more.

I like some conceptual art because it appeals to me for the reasons it appeals to me — as a concept.

I enjoy some concepts more than others … others I don’t even recognise as needing to be expressed in the first place — the artist’s baby … their concept … wasn’t vibrant and exciting … it was stillborn from the moment of conception.

I enjoy some executions of certain concepts more than others.

But the fact that I appreciate some conceptual art doesn’t mean I have to like it all … and I don’t — a lot of it is, in my not so humble opinion, complete and utter rubbish.

But surely the same applies to the art you enjoy.

Do you like every artist so long as their work is ‘representational’?

Or do some artists’ pieces … even some artists’ entire ouevres … leave you feeling ‘meh’?

Do you like no conceptual art at all?

Or are there pieces that make you think, question, smile … or even appeal for no reason you can put your finger on, they just do? In the same way that you like one artist (Monet) but not another (Duchamp springs to mind for some reason)

As for the difference between conceptual and representational

… short of the approach I might one day take myself, doing extremely abstract painting insofar as I don’t use paint or canvass, I just sit there, people come up to me and suggest ideas and I then think about them, visualising them in my mind’s eye and then … maybe … describing what I see to the person who gave me my subject

… any and all execution of a concept is representational — just like Cubism, Impressionism … whatever school you like … conceptual pieces are a representation of an idea … the only difference being that conceptual artists consider ideas to be things … with as much reality as the objects that resulted in a still life painting.

Is your issue, at the end of the day, that you don’t like conceptual art or that you don’t like contemporary art?

Is it even that you don’t like either/both … or that you just don’t like what’s been decided is exemplary by the orthodoxy of the Art World’s great and good grandees?

Or is it even that your personal tastes simply don’t match what gallery owners are prepared to sell — and their reasons may be more than pecuniary … one of their displayed artists may simply be a friend … or a lover … or a would-be either/both.

To be fair, as I said, you do maintain that it is really a matter of taste on your part and I wouldn’t even disagree with you a lot of the time. I too find … more often than not in fact … that

I find most of the exhibits so incomprehensible that (a) I have nothing to say about them and (b) I immediately forget about them.

Fundamentally, I am questioning your initial claims that

fans of the contemporary insist on repeating

(1) A dislike of modern art is a symptom of insufficient education. Given enough art-historical and philosophical background, anyone should appreciate modern art. Furthermore, such background is worth acquiring.

(2) Modern art is preferable to representational painting in some objective sense: modern art is serious and cutting-edge; representational painting is shallow and outmoded. It’s fine to create and appreciate art which is merely beautiful, but in this day and age we ought to aim for something more.

In the case of the former, I’d agree … because it doesn’t mean I am thereafter bound to like all contemporary art … simply that will have a greater appreciation of it when I see it and may even like more of it.

In the case of the latter, well, I’m someone who appreciates conceptual art ¹ … and I don’t insist on it. I try to encourage people to enjoy it as much as I do for the same reason (a wider, more encompassing, appreciation of what Art is and can be). But it would be pointless to insist that someone else like everything that I like — it can’t be done … you either like Marmite or you don’t.

And this leads me to posit that, your protestation (that word is, perhaps, a bit strong, but you get my point) to the contrary notwithstanding, you are ‘strawmanning’ because you leap from the specific to the general … and that just can’t be done with Art — any more than it can be accurately claimed that

Modern art is preferable to representational painting in some objective sense: modern art is serious and cutting-edge; representational painting is shallow and outmoded.

… because beauty truly lies in the eye of the beholder and nowhere else.

The case of modern art is different — often, the hard work lies entirely on the side of the viewer.


That’s the case with any and all communication — it’s a two-way process in which both/all parties have to make an effort.

We have to contort our mind into strange shapes to get anywhere near a state we might recognize as appreciation.

And maybe that was the artist’s intent all along — to make us think.

Is that such a bad thing?

No-one says we have to like it afterwards either.

The work is difficult in the sense of being difficult to appreciate — but it isn’t necessarily difficult to create.

Again … so, what?

A child is difficult to raise — it isn’t difficult to create.

(It’s also often not difficult to understand, in the sense that there isn’t much there to be understood.)

Need there be?

Moreover, how is that any different from appreciating a Monet?

Water lilies … what’s there to be appreciated at the end of the day?

Some water … some lillies … and

… and what?

The artist’s execution … choice of subject … frame, and framing, of reference?

That’s a bit abstract, don’t you think?

A bit conceptual, in fact.

Should you be liking it so much after all?

Or is a simple appreciation of it allowed, without having to put much effort into what, at the end of the day, is just some water lilies really — there isn’t really that much there to be understood after all, is there?

The artist gives us an instruction (“appreciate this!”),

But does he?

Or is he simply saying “here’s something I think/feel … make of it what you will”?

but he doesn’t need to know how to follow it.

Why does that matter?

Just listen to what Creed has to say about his own work — does this sound like the sort of deep appreciation we expect from viewers?

Just who is it that is holding a gun to your head and saying “You must appreciate this”?

The art world makes a virtue of things that have no independent value

That’s as true of Monet as any other artist.

If the Art world … meaning the high priests and priestesses thereof, I assume … didn’t rate Monet’s work then you would be unlikely to have ever seen any, let alone considered unenlightened for liking it — you are confounding inherent value … as of say food … with an abstractly assigned value … as of say a company listed on the Stock Exchange of your choice.

Art has no independent value — it’s value lies in the eye of the beholder.

Its proponents treat mere difficulty as if it were a virtue — as if steeper mountains were better, independently of the views.

If you’re a mountain climber then that is the case and other mountain climbers will agree with you.

Perhaps your problem is that you are spending time with the wrong kind of art aficionados … going to the wrong galleries — perhaps you should be hanging out with the hill-walking society instead.

Modern art is only difficult in the sense in which a rebellious teenager is difficult.

No … bad modern art is.

I can rightly ask: “what’d you do that for?!”

And the artist can rightly reply “to make you ask that very question … make you think.”

If I go to a massage therapist, and instead of giving me a massage, he kicks me, telling me that his intention was to hurt rather than massage me doesn’t help his case. You don’t get brownie points simply for achieving your aims.

Art isn’t massage … isn’t therapy.

This is a straw man argument.

if your masseur kicks you, they aren’t a masseur — you may have have legitimate complaint.

An artist doesn’t provide a service. You either like (some of) their work or you don’t … just as you either find a person attractive or you don’t.

And you can no more complain about an artist’s work than you can about someone’s looks — don’t go with a prostitute you don’t find physically attractive would be my advice.

This is a fine aim, except (1) modern art, with its tiny, highbrow audience, and amenability to multiple, inconsistent interpretations

Again, you’re conflating … modern, never mind Modern, art and conceptual art are not the same thing.

Banksy is highly conceptual, extraordinarily popular with ‘the man or woman on the street’, highly regarded … and not really open to multiple, let alone inconsistent, interpretation (much of the time his message is about as subtle as a brick in the face with a slice of lemon wrapped around it).

was I really born too late for art that is beautiful

No … just go to places where they display the kind of art you find beautiful — the Tate, the Louvre, wherever … not the Tate Modern.

To me, an idea can be beautiful … and if I find the execution of it to be so as well … well, that’s exquisitely beautiful — beautiful on the outside as well as on the inside.

Take the track S2 Translation, by The Shamen, for instance ².

Not only is the concept beautiful to my mind’s eye … I‘m actually listening to the man … his very essence … what makes him him at the most fundamental level there is … but the process of listening to it is also a beautiful experience — it just sounds lovely.

but making art that brings joy to people is, other things equal, still a finer thing than art which merely scandalizes them

You’re contradicting yourself — either being shown uncomfortable truths, often moral or political ones in the service of grander aims is “a fine aim” or it isn’t. So, which is it? And why?

If this had been Duchamp’s aim, he failed to achieve it

If that were the case, you wouldn’t be talking about it now.

Moreover, what about the aspect of questioning whether there is not an inherent art(istry) in even everyday objects like urinals? What about the encouragement to look at things anew … not take them for granted and walk on by, but to appreciate the beauty in everything — if we were to take the purely utilitarian approach to Art that you appear, increasingly, to be propounding then the exhortation to spend the last of our money on hyacinths for the soul would fall on deaf ears as we rushed to buy bread … and there would be no room in the World for hyacinths because all the land would be turned over to farming.

if you use those very words to criticize them, you’re just agreeing with them, adding fuel to their “greatness.” […] Now we have a good artwork saying of itself that it’s bad — which means that it’s either lying, or mistaken.

The set of all sets that don’t contain themselves … does it exist or not?

“This statement is a lie.”

“The World isn’t black and white it’s shades of grey.” Really? Is that a fact then?

You’re defining the purpose of Art to be what please you and nothing else … for the reasons it please you and for no other.

That’s not Art, good, bad or indifferent … it’s art that pleases you, no more, no less … and the reasons why are immaterial ³.

But to succeed in this project means to turn a lowly item into something that makes a statement about the bankruptcy of art — which is to say, to change it from a lowly item into… modern art.

No … it turns it into Art, period.

That’s the thing about Art: it’s Art because someone intended it to be so … and that’s all there is to Art at the end of the day … intentionality — the rest is just the sun-stroke induced ravings of a madman with a bad absinthe hangover … a human chimpanzee.

In this specific instance it wasn’t Art because the teens didn’t intend it to be … but your conclusion does not follow from that.

Duchamp said “we should all go home.” For a hundred years, the art world has been standing in the gallery, applauding this statement.

And why shouldn’t it?

The World is still reading the Bible story 2,000 years after the events it purports to report upon ended.

Should it stop looking to it for insight and wisdom then?

I’m not religious myself but I still reckon there’s some good sense spoken in it: the Ten Commandments are pretty sound … and the warnings about the Seven Deadly Sins — the parable of the Good Samaritan is pretty significant in my eyes too.

You’ve seen it all before so we should all go home?

Never mind future generations who have yet to be born — they don’t need the benefit of Duchamp’s wisdom … you’ve already benefitted from it, so they needn’t bother to even leave home, is that it?

(To counter that since, after all these years, I still remember this annoying experience, the art must have been good, is to, once again, change the rules of the game so that badness becomes goodness.)

Or maybe you just need to accept that the rules of the game aren’t what you would wish them to be.

Play a different game then.

Or play it with different people at least.

If the idea embodied in Duchamp’s “Fountain” is that art is dead, then the ideal viewer is one so convinced of the message that she doesn’t bother coming to the gallery.

Now you’re on to something — we may instill an appreciation of conceptual art in you yet.

However … your mother is dead, so the logical conclusion is a closed casket, because you don’t need to see her again — she isn’t there anyway.

You are assigning a single permissible value to the artistic intent, process and outcome — who are you to decide on behalf of the artist what outcomes are legitimate?

Everything about this argument is wrong.

The fact that it is a truism does not make it any less true.

“all great art was misunderstood in its day.” [...] Much great art wasn’t misunderstood in its day

Straw man … you’ve set it up so that you can knock it down.

Furthermore, even if you could show me a genuine source for that … an actual bona fide quote … you cannot extrapolate from the specific (one quote) to the general (all people who like conceptual/contemporary art say this).

Modern art is over- rather than undervalued.


And Van Gogh’s Sunflowers is really worth its fetching price at auction, is it?

You’re assigning value in monetary terms and then conflating that with inherent artistic value to argue that art you don’t like has an inflated artistic value because … in a Capitalist/Monetarist society in which the monetary value of something is whatever ‘the Market’ will bear … it will bear a high monetary value.

This is a straw man’s straw man — congratulations … I think you have the makings of a meta-conceptual artist in you.

Finally, contemporary art isn’t young — Duchamp’s “Fountain” is 100 years old, and we philistines still don’t get it. How much longer are we supposed to wait?

Your use of the term ‘contemporary’ is more than a little fluid — nothing as old as Fountain can be considered ‘contemporary’ by any stretch of the imagination and, again, this is a straw man argument.

That’s a lot of cool features for a light switch in an empty room! But it’s not enough to rehabilitate conceptual art for me.

Dear Lord, what do you want? A free unicorn too?

First, none of these features are reasons to go and see the work in person.

Then don’t.

Oh … I forgot the gun to your head.

Sorry … my bad — as you were.

Second, the work is still just a room with lights going on and off.

And Monet’s water lilies are still just oil on canvas.

but there’s only so many times you can go through a paradoxical loop in your head without wanting to look at some deliciously textured paint.

And there’s only so much textured paint you can look at before wanting to think about something else.

a student at the Ruskin School of Art

So, you and one other person in the entire World don’t see eye-to-eye about Art.

Is it really that big a deal?

Would you like us to “turn off the lights and softly close the door” whilst you lie in the dark and get over it?

The art favored by the French Academy was heroic, pompous, political, and needed to be decoded with the aid of textbooks. Sound familiar?

Yeah … it sounds like plus ça change … and that you don’t like institutionalised orthodoxies.

Oh, wait.

Hang on a second … isn’t your complaint that contemporary Art isn’t what you think it ought to be?

I thought you didn’t rate paradoxes very highly though — said something about them being boring, if recall correctly.

I think you really need to make your mind up whether you don’t like contemporary (and, possibly, conceptual) Art … or the contemporary (if indeed any) Art Establishment.

Van Gogh’s mere sunflowers — made of color, texture, emotion, mortality — will stay relevant when all the world’s most sophisticated art fades into obscurity.


You think?

In a world in which countless species become extinct on a daily basis without our ever having observed their existence in the first place?

In a world in which someone will stab you for your sports/fashion footwear?

In a world in which, quite possibly, sunflowers will be extinct in the not too distant future and future generations will simply shrug and say “meh, whatever” as they continue playing their Augmented Reality game of Plants Versus Zombies?

You’re still going on about Fountain a hundred years after Duchamp proclaimed it pointless.

And a hundred years from now, there’ll be another you saying the same thing, trust me — complaining about the youth of the day will never go out of style.

Art can make you marvel at its beauty, art can make you uncomfortable, art can make you think. Some art’s function is to make you appreciate its beauty, [but] personally, I like art that does something more.

Urist Green is being slippery here.

No … you are.

Unless there is more to this that you’re simply omitting … and we, therefore, just have to take your word for it that nothing else she said need be known for us to draw that conclusion ourselves … it appears that you’re setting up another straw man by conflating her “personally, I like” with your own “better than just beauty.”

But if this is all Urist Green means by “something more,”

If, yes … if.

Moreover, the fact that you can reformulate the statement ‘A=B’ as ‘B=A’ does not mean that ‘A=B’ is, therefore, somehow invalid.

You’re arguing that her personal taste is invalid because … well, actually, why are you arguing that?

It’s a matter of personal taste … and you can’t actually tell someone that they like the taste of fish when they don’t, in fact, like the taste of fish — not even if you argue that, “if they did like fish, however, then I could say they didn’t and that would prove that they were being slippery when they said they did.”

“Some art’s function is to make you uncomfortable or make you think, but personally, I like art that does something more: art that is also beautiful.”

And I would agree with you that that is a more satisfactory state of affairs … remark that I feel exactly the same myself.

But you and I might still not agree about what is beautiful.

She’s insinuating a value judgment

Again, unless there is something you are neglecting to tell us about what she said then, no, you are — all she stated was a preference … everything else is going on inside your head.

it’s not just that beauty plus thought is better than beauty, but thought by itself is better than beauty. Beauty without thought is mere beauty; thought without beauty is thought, period — or perhaps: bravely ascetic thought.

Well, there’s a lot of thought going on, yes.

But it appears, at least, to be all you putting thoughts into someone else’s head.

(That’s a neat trick by the way … the telepathic equivalent of putting words in someone’s mouth — impressive).

An art historian once told me that beauty is “irrelevant.” She didn’t care to specify — irrelevant to what?

To the history of Art.

Right or wrong is irrelevant— Hitler was still one of the most significant figures in History and, therefore, we study him and his ‘work.’

Historically speaking, Hitler has value.

Whether he was a good man or an evil man is irrelevant — hence why Nazi regalia still sells to collectors who aren’t closet neo-Nazis.

Monet has nothing to tell us about politics or morality, and he’s certainly not “problematizing” the concept of art.

Good for him — not all art even has to, let alone needs to, in order to be good or even beautiful.

How is this advancing your critique of an altogether different phenomenon — namely that conceptual art isn’t representational art?

In fact, your whole argument seems to be getting a trifle conceptual here.

While I gasped at Monet, other visitors came and went. Some said “Too much pastel; not sophisticated enough.” Others: “Ooh, look at the pastel colors! I’d like this in my living room.” They disagreed, but they were seeing — skating across — essentially the same surface. None of them plunged in.

You mean they were insufficiently schooled in it to appreciate it? Perhaps they need an education — “given enough historical and philosophical background, anyone should be able to appreciate” a phenomenon they never encounter in their daily, highly urban lives of concrete and glass, in which ponds of water lilies do not factor at all, let alone significantly, surely.

Nudes emerging from half-lit, textured spaces, the glow of lamplight and fireplaces, the curves of bathtubs and sofas combined to put me into a state of dizzy, tingling intoxication.

Steady on there — there’s such a thing as too much information, you know.

After I feasted on Degas to overfulness, I wandered through the MoMA’s 1960s gallery. Tingling subsided and turned to numbness.

Well, you’ve answered your own question there, haven’t you?

If you’ve eaten beyond the point of satiation then, no, you aren’t going to be moved by the sight of more food … of any kind.

If Dieter Roth had really tasted what I tasted in Degas, could he have kept grinding out art which insists that all art is only ground-up words?

Did Roth actually state that?

Serious question … not rhetorical — I don’t know Roth or his work.

I find it hard to believe that someone could love Degas the way I do and then renounce beauty, sensuality, tastiness… for ground up books.

Again, serious question … did he?

And, if he did, why can you not conceive of the idea that people grow and evolve and their tastes change?

Perhaps, like me, he loved beetroot as a small child, ate a whole jar of it one day and could never eat it again.

So, he decided he preferred ground up books in the end.

So …

… what?

Where amidst this anecdotal biography is your argument?

I mean … as a thought experiment, it’s fun … amusing even … but it seems to me that, rather than making a clear statement you’re “insinuating a value judgment.”

I suspect that the conceptual artist — the hunger artist — is a monk devoted to a celibate lifestyle simply because he has never fallen in love.

Let Hunger Artists patiently chew their discourses; I prefer food.

Ah, right … the artist couldn’t possibly know his own mind, could he?

Not as well as you know his mind anyway.

Because you are endowed with “enough historical and philosophical background” to better divine his own intent than he himself.

It’s a nice couple of lines, I’ll grant you … looks good in print — pithy … cuttingly condescending … nice hint of self-referential ‘see what I did there’. I suspect it’ll stand you in good stead when the time comes to submit your portfolio in order to clinch that columnist’s gig in some Art periodical.

This inane insult is based on three blatantly false (if venerable) assumptions: (1) that there’s something wrong with masturbation, (2) that smell and touch are primitive senses, unworthy of attention, (3) that the intellect can be separated from the senses and is superior to them.

Is it? Did Duchamp clarify that specifically then? (Again, a serious question — I’m not an Art historian, so I don’t know myself).

Either way around, whilst I don’t consider there to be anything ‘wrong’ with masturbation myself … what if I’m wrong?

And is it … more to the point … Art?

Well, apparently, there are pornography industry awards given for everything else, so why not the best masturbation scene?

And there are air-felatio competitions — like air-guitar but for simulated felatio by a solo performer.

So, maybe it is.

You’re straying from the role of Art critic to that of moral authority here.

You need to keep it clean if you’re going to land that columnist’s gig; the role of editor, never mind sub-editor, has all but disappeared these days … even Nature publishes without peer review these days to save on overheads … and you won’t be able to rely on anyone else catching these things for you — and all it takes is one poor review of your review and your reputation is in tatters.

But it’s still up for debate whether it’s the art — whether what gets exhibited in galleries really is modern art, in the sense of being the best, or the most representative, or the most interesting art of our times.

Perhaps it’s just … you know … modern?


And something that the Art historian considered exemplary of the period and a given school of Art.

Or that the gallery owner … or their buyer … thought might sell well.

Perhaps there’s the commercial angle to consider as well as the academic — a bit like Toulouse-Lautrec.

Who’s to say that the really great art of our times isn’t hanging in a basement or on a cafe wall somewhere, too “old-fashioned” to be appreciated?

Whistler’s mother might well concur.

The art world has been dancing at art’s funeral pyre for 100 years. But this is its own funeral — not painting’s, and not beauty’s.

I suspect the Art world will be around long after nobody ever even knew either of us, never mind forgot about us.

Beauty has been problematized, interrogated, critiqued, and beaten over the head with every ugly, pretentious cousin of a perfectly ordinary word

I can hear women screaming “Men!” as I write this.

and so it fled the art world.

Not to my way of thinking, it hasn’t … but then beauty is, as they say, in the eye of the beholder — maybe mine isn’t as jaded.

But beauty isn’t dead. It’s safe and sound in its proper home: the world of the art lover.

Dunno ‘bout that … but my friend’s devastatingly pretty … and a beautiful person too … so, I reckon its proper home might be in her — but what would I know? I’m just an observer … one of those beholders they keep going on about … not an Art critic.

Well, this has been thought-provoking, stimulating and fun … and I thank you for that.

Educational too — for which I also thank you.

Obviously, I disagree with you about a lot of things but, hey, one man’s meat and all that.

I’ll just finish by mentioning that I too had the good fortune to see Monet’s Water Lilies paintings … many years ago in Paris … had much the same experience as you … and then went and thoroughly enjoyed looking at some conceptual Art pieces as well.

It’s a shame you seem determined to restrict your own enjoyment to just the one kind of Art — personally, I don’t care what colour her skin is, where she’s from, what language she speaks, whether she’s religious … I just appreciate a pretty face for what it is, without feeling the need to fit it into some value-hierarchy of prettiness.

¹ I‘m eschewing the use of ‘contemporary’ because that’s really a meaningless term unless I happen to like the current output of the artists who are producing works … and of the term ‘Modern’ because ‘Modernism’ is a school/period in its own right and it’s too easy to get ‘modern’ and ‘contemporary’ confused when discussing things without that specific frame of reference — moreover, Modernist works leave me cold, by and large.


³ I do not like thee, Doctor Fell,
The reason why — I cannot tell;
But this I know, and know full well,
I do not like thee, Doctor Fell.

There he goes. One of God's own prototypes. A high-powered mutant of some kind never even considered for mass production. Too weird to live and too rare to die.